Nora Freeman Engstrom ’02
Assistant Professor of Law
Nora Freeman Engstrom ’02 was sure she wanted to teach law—she always had. Her father was a law professor at the University of South Carolina, and he described the job as the best in the world. She loved the law and wanted to immerse herself in it. But after graduating from Stanford Law School and clerking first for Judge Henry H. Kennedy, Jr. on the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia and then for Judge Merrick B. Garland on the D.C. Circuit, she decided she wasn’t ready. “I had not yet found a research agenda that would thrill me, that would make a tangible contribution to society, and that I would want to pursue for the long term,” she says. So she decided to practice law until she found the scholarly inspiration that would lead her to the academy.
That inspiration came to her when she least expected it. She was visiting her parents in South Carolina, watching the World Series. It was 2004 and they didn’t have TiVo yet, so she endured the lengthy commercial breaks along with the game. One law firm ad stood out because it ran over and over again—the lawyer enthusiastically encouraging clients to bring their cases to his firm for a quick settlement. “I had to wonder how a local law firm could possibly generate enough profit to purchase expensive ad time during the World Series. What was going on there?”
She started her preliminary research and was immediately intrigued. She noticed, among other things, that “settlement mills,” as she calls these high-volume personal injury law practices, resolve a staggering number of claims each year—and they do so with virtually no meaningful client interaction, rarely filing lawsuits, and almost never taking claims to trial. She also found a significant gap in existing scholarship on how legal services are delivered and marketed at these settlement mills, despite the profound implications for legal ethics, tort law, and the operation of the civil justice system. “I started out thinking it would be interesting to do a profile of this one particular firm and then realized that I was looking at the tip of an iceberg. Beneath the surface was a pervasive, distinctive, and almost entirely unexplored type of legal practice.” She soon left her job as an associate at Wilmer Cutler Pickering Hale and Dorr LLP and found a base for her work as a research dean’s scholar at Georgetown University Law Center.
And so began her career in the legal academy. She completed a working paper on her research—which will soon be published in a leading journal of legal ethics—and started searching for a position as an assistant professor along with her husband David ’02, who was also looking for a teaching position. Finding a joint appointment is not easy, so they were thrilled when their own law school made them both offers. And while her research is evolving, she is hopeful that with this appointment she will have time to focus on her scholarship, and so make a lasting contribution to the legal profession.
“I believe that our legal system is best judged not by how it resolves the rare headline-grabbing case but by how it resolves the frequent, everyday disputes of ordinary citizens. My research focuses on how those disputes are resolved and how the legal profession serves and sometimes disserves ordinary Americans,” she says. Now back at Stanford Law, she is looking forward to teaching Torts and Professional Responsibility—and to continuing the research that inspired her. – Sharon Driscoll
David Freeman Engstrom ’02
Assistant Professor of Law
David Freeman Engstrom ’02 has wanted to teach law for a long time. Growing up as an Air Force kid in Dayton, Ohio, Engstrom had no lawyers in his family and had no particular intention of becoming one himself. His interest in the legal system developed later as he studied the civil rights movement while a Dartmouth undergraduate. This, in turn, led him to join the Mississippi Teacher Corps following graduation in 1993, where he taught and coached football for two years in a poor, African-American high school, in a town of 4,000 deep in the Mississippi Delta. And that experience ignited his love of teaching. It also ignited his interest in the design of public institutions, particularly regarding civil rights. Following his stint in Mississippi, Engstrom pursued these interests, first at Oxford as a Fulbright scholar and then as a PhD student in political science at Yale.
While Engstrom greatly valued the quantitative training he received as a graduate student, he soon realized that the policy debates that interested him most were largely driven by lawyers. Law school—and the legal academy—seemed like the logical next step. He chose Stanford Law School for its faculty and close-knit community.
“At Stanford, I took full advantage of the incredible faculty access and sought out mentors such as Mark Kelman, Pam Karlan, and Tom Grey (BA ’63),” says Engstrom. Articles on constitutional federalism and law and education followed.
When entering Stanford Law School in the fall of 1999, Engstrom never could have imagined how serendipitous that step would turn out to be. He met Nora Freeman ’02 in their 1L orientation group. They began dating during their 2L year and married in 2003.
After graduating from SLS, Engstrom clerked for Judge Diane P. Wood of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit. He also spent a year at Yale Law School as an Olin Fellow in Law, Economics, and Public Policy and completed his PhD dissertation, which explores the pre-Title VII origins of employment discrimination law at the state level.
“America’s first wide-scale experiment with regulating employment discrimination was an administrative scheme, in stark contrast to the court-centered Title VII scheme that currently exists. My project allows me to ask about paths not taken—and paths that could, and perhaps should, be taken in the future,” Engstrom explains.
Following completion of his dissertation, Engstrom practiced law for three and a half years as an associate at a boutique law firm in Washington, D.C., that specializes in Supreme Court and trial litigation.
Engstrom is currently writing a book based on his dissertation, and the project has already been hailed as helping to reconceive how we think about the evolution of civil rights in the second half of the 20th century. Engstrom is working on other projects as well, including a quantitative analysis of disability discrimination laws and a series of papers examining the qui tam provisions of the False Claims Act.
His clerkship and practical training will be invaluable when he teaches Administrative Law and Civil Procedure. But perhaps most important—at least to Engstrom’s students—is his palpable excitement about being in the classroom again. – Randee Fenner
Daniel P. Kessler ’93
Professor of Law
Daniel P. Kessler ’93 could write a book about the current debate on health care reform. Actually, he already has. Healthy, Wealthy, and Wise: Five Steps to a Better Health Care System, which he wrote with John Cogan and R. Glenn Hubbard, provides an accessible explanation of how health care in the United States has become such an important problem and what policymakers can do to get the country back on track in addressing it.
“The book draws on research that I and others have done that shows how market-based health care reform can preserve our system’s strengths while correcting its weaknesses,” he says. This is his career’s work—research and scholarship from years in the academy—now playing out on a very real stage. As to how this great American challenge, perhaps the most important since civil rights or the New Deal, will end, he’s not so sure.
“Congress has a very hard problem in front of it,” he says. “Extending coverage to those who don’t have it while at the same time not disrupting people’s existing insurance arrangements is going to be fantastically costly. Finding a way to finance this agenda is a massive challenge.”
Health policy has fascinated Kessler since his days as a graduate student in economics at MIT where he began working with Mark McClellan, who later became the head of Medicare and the commissioner of the FDA. Today, Kessler is a much sought after expert in the field, consulting with corporations, foundations, and the governments of both the United States and Canada.
But it is the Stanford campus that Kessler has called home for the last 15 years as a professor at the Graduate School of Business and, since 2006, a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution. While he studied at Stanford Law and has been a “by courtesy” professor here on occasion, this year he joins the law school faculty teaching a course this winter that brings together his scholarship in law, economics, and medicine: Health Care Regulation, Finance and Policy, which will be cross listed with Stanford School of Medicine’s Department of Health Research and Policy. He will also co-teach Tax Policy with Joseph Bankman, Ralph M. Parsons Professor of Law and Business.
“I’m thrilled to be part of the law school’s efforts to facilitate interdisciplinary work,” he says. “This is the direction all law schools should be going. It’s fantastic that Stanford Law is doing so much with the other graduate schools on campus. It makes sense.”
And he’s looking forward to returning to his alma mater to teach law students.
“I’ve especially enjoyed teaching law students, which I’ve done here, at Harvard, and at the University of Pennsylvania,” says Kessler. “They are so interested in public policy and its implications. They’re just a treat to teach.” – Sharon Driscoll
Adelbert H. Sweet Professor of Law
Joan Petersilia’s first brush with the law came when she was 23 years old, studying for her master’s in sociology at The Ohio State University. She took a class in criminology from Simon Dinitz, and he arranged for her to do an internship that entailed transporting female prisoners from prison to a halfway house and then spending several nights with them. After that, she was hooked.
“Until then, I didn’t really know what my specialty was going to be,” says Petersilia, a criminologist with a background in empirical research and social sciences. “Working with these women, seeing what happened to them while in prison and after—that was the spark.”
The daughter of a Pentagon Air Force general, Petersilia grew up during the Vietnam War. Choosing to study social work and sociology, she says, was a way to “balance my family’s military background.” And she wanted to give something back to society. Over the course of her 30-year career, Petersilia has become the nation’s leading scholar in corrections, publishing 11 books and numerous papers—her research fueling discussions throughout the country. A policy junkie at heart, it is what happens to her research and how the data affects public policy that motivates her.
“Studies are only valuable, to me, if they are implemented in the real-world context,” says Petersilia, who joins Robert Weisberg ’79, Edwin E. Huddleson, Jr. Professor of Law, as faculty co-director of the Stanford Criminal Justice Center. “I don’t think my work is done until that’s happened.”
After receiving her graduate degree in sociology, Petersilia joined the RAND Corporation where she spent 23 years examining correctional issues and eventually heading its criminal justice program. While at RAND, she also finished her doctorate degree in criminology at the University of California, Irvine, and eventually became a member of the faculty there, where she taught PhD students in the School of Social Ecology and was the founding director of UCI’s Center for Evidence-Based Corrections.
It was while at Irvine that Petersilia’s work came to the attention of California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger.
“About a week after his election I got a call from someone I knew from my years at RAND asking for my help,” says Petersilia. “Previously, when I’d go visit legislators my reports were on their shelves—just sitting there. So the challenge was to make those reports come alive in this administration.”
Since then, Petersilia has served as a special advisor to the governor, helping to reorganize juvenile and adult corrections and working with the California State Legislature to implement prison and parole reform. And data gathered by Petersilia and her colleagues here at Stanford Law School have influenced major legislation in the state, including AB 900, which covers various aspects of corrections reform, from funding for community corrections to reentry centers, to rehabilitation programs in prison, and more.
“I was there next to the governor when it was signed two years ago. And we had everyone’s agreement on a way to move forward. We were ready,” she says. “And then the bottom fell out of the economy.”
While recognizing the enormity of the corrections problems facing California and all of the states—with the costs to society from its many issues including overcrowding, prisoner addiction, prison violence, and recidivism—Petersilia is undeterred.
“Unbiased data and research is now affecting the debate in a way that it didn’t before,” she says. “And legislators are hungry for the data—they know that the issues facing the corrections system will not just go away.”
Though not a JD herself, Petersilia has been a visiting member of the Stanford Law faculty before and is looking forward to once again sharing her experience and research teaching law students.
“Law students have a sense of public service. And they believe they can do anything,” she says. “And they are so bright. The scholarship produced by the students I taught when I was visiting was incredible, and it is now widely cited.” – Sharon Driscoll
Judge Michael W. McConnell
Richard and Frances Mallery Professor of Law
When Judge Michael W. McConnell was a student at Michigan State University, he had a vague notion that he might go on to study law—sort of a hunch that the field would suit him. “My favorite extracurricular activity was debating. I was actually a state champion debater in high school. But I didn’t know any lawyers, so I didn’t have a role model in the field,” he says.
He majored in political philosophy and economics and was a cub reporter for the Louisville Courier-Journal in the summers and a page editor for his college daily. When it came time to apply to graduate schools, he considered journalism—but also sought advice about the law from the one lawyer he had met—a local whose election McConnell had covered for the paper. That lawyer, Clifford Taylor, advised him that the law could open many doors. Taylor eventually became chief justice of the Michigan Supreme Court—McConnell a federal judge and noted constitutional scholar.
Looking back, it’s clear that McConnell’s hunch paid off and Taylor’s advice was sound. McConnell discovered not only a career that fit, but a great passion for the law—starting with legal studies.
“I’m almost embarrassed to say it, but I actually loved law school, even the first year,” says McConnell, now Stanford Law School’s Richard and Frances Mallery Professor of Law and director of the Stanford Constitutional Law Center. “I guess that makes me a complete law dork—but there you have it.”
After receiving his JD from the University of Chicago in 1979, he first clerked for Chief Judge J. Skelly Wright on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit and then for Justice William J. Brennan Jr. at the Supreme Court of the United States. And while he thought he’d eventually practice law at a firm, he then took a position at the Office of Management and Budget as an assistant general counsel and later at the Department of Justice as assistant to the solicitor general—experiences that led him to conclude that his future was in the legal academy.
“My clerkships and government service involved really interesting constitutional questions. I realized that the only way I could continue to pursue this side of law, this scholarship, was as an academic. So I didn’t enter the academy with a strong desire to teach—though I have that now—but wanting to do scholarship,” he says.
He found a base for that scholarship on the faculty at the University of Chicago Law School in 1985 and then at the University of Utah S.J. Quinney College of Law in 1997. Focusing on the religion clauses of the U.S. Constitution, separation of powers, federalism, originalism, and various aspects of constitutional law, McConnell has over the years built a reputation as a preeminent legal scholar—his work widely cited.
His career took an interesting turn when he was nominated by President George W. Bush to a seat on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit, which he held from 2002 until this year when he joined Stanford Law’s faculty in August. As to whether he will miss his work on the bench, McConnell is clear.
“I’ve spent the summer both grieving and anticipating,” says McConnell, who will also be a senior fellow at Stanford’s Hoover Institution. “But the truth is that the university is really my first love. And I regard teaching as one of the great joys—perhaps the greatest joy—of academics.” – Sharon Driscoll